Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Globalization and The Aarhus Convention

        The 2010 Cancun Conference on the Kyoto Protocol, the practical part of the 1992 Climate Change / Global Warming treaty has become perhaps among the most well-known of international treaties.  Perhaps the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act of the US, along with CITES, the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, and the WTO are among some others, not to forget the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO conventions on labor rights.  Among the many worthy treaties, environmental, labor, and otherwise, the Aarhus Convention came to my attention for its democratic and social participatory qualities in substance.     
        The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters emerged in 1997 and 2001 as an international UN related treaty which correlated democratic principles and environmental responsibility.  In terms of solidarity economics and government policy, the recognition of each and every member of the public in economic democracy forms extends the co-operative, value-based model of business first historically established by working people in Rochdale, England near Manchester.  While the U.S. has fostered some important advances in democratic practices, among its most important has been the UN´s Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which established a new modern standard declared in favor of the participatory principle.  The Aarhus Convention builds significantly on this idea by applying it to environmental concerns.
      An examination of the Aarhus Convention reveals that the treaty originated in the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) “Environment for Europe” (E for E) processes begun in 1991, following the Brundtland Commission’s report on Sustainable Development and in anticipation of the 1992 U.N. Rio Conference on Environment and Development.  Stockholm’s Principle 1 against discrimination and Rio Declaration Principle 10 on pluralistic public participation became a definitive foundation for the E for E concerns and programs.  In between these two events and declarations, environmental accidents in Europe first spurred the development of the environmental public participation principle, while the subsequent fall of Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s Communist systems created a broader response to the acute and wide-scale crisis in environmental pollution and transitional political economies for the UNECE and the E for E process.  A series of steps took place as conferences and interim meetings developed concerns, concepts, and consensus, like a Regional Environmental Center and the Sofia Guidelines, until the 1998 UNECE conference in Aarhus, Denmark.1
            The significance of public participation in environmental matters is clarified by a number of historical developments in international environmental law, including European environmental law like the 1990 Directive on Access to Information in Environmental Matters2 and U.S. legal developments like the 1992 founding of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice.3  These in turn reveal the influence of human rights law, as in the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, and subsequent 1960’s conventions on Political and Civil Rights and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.  Also, important insights can be gained by considering the relations between the U.N.- and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) such as are clarified by appreciating Article 714 of the U.N. Charter and Article II of the Constitution of UNESCO’s International Union for the Protection of Nature,5 and historical momentum derived from the historical development of environmental associations known as NGO’s.  In addition, NGO efforts contributed significantly to the organizing of events like the 1884 Vienna International Ornithological Congress.  Also importance is the more general historical development of associations and international congresses conveying democratic  and human rights concerns often with religious origins, like the 18th Century anti-slavery societies and the 1815 Congress of Vienna.6  
 UNECE (U.N. Economic Commission for Europe), “History of the Process: From Dobris to Belgrade,”  “Environment for Europe” Process, www.unece.org
2 “Council Directive 90/313/EEC of 7 June 1990 on the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment.” Official Journal L 158, 23/6/1990, Europa: the European Union.
3 EPA, “Environmental Justice Background,” http://www.epa.gov/compliance/basics/ejbackground.html
4 Russell, Ruth B. and Jeannette E. Muther,  A History of the United Nations Charter: the Role of the United States 1940-1945,  Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1958.; 
5 “International Union for the Protection of Nature Constitution,”  Conference for the Establishment of the International Union for the Protection of Nature, NS/UIPN/12, Fontainebleau, FRA, 30 Sept.- 7 Oct. 1948, ttp://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001547/154724eb.pdf;
6 Charnovitz, Steve,  “Two Centuries of Participation: NGO’s and International Governance,”  Michigan Journal of International Law, 18, 1996-97, 183-286.

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